Shepway war memorial family stories to mark WWI centenary

Bernard Bailey Bernard Bailey, who is on Hythe memorial, died in France in 1917

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Two intrepid friends have been spending hundreds of hours - and pounds - trying to piece together details of the lives of all those who served and died during World War One who passed through their little patch of east Kent, in time for next year's centenary of the outbreak of war.

They hope their labour of love, to honour more than 1,500 people named on war memorials in Folkestone and neighbouring districts, will provide a permanent record to honour those who fought in the Great War.

James Bloomfield followed his father, Curtis, into the army, but unlike his father, failed to return.

His death came on the battlefields of the Somme towards the end of World War One.

Yet it seems the sergeant in the 6th Battalion East Kent Regiment (the Buffs) might have been too young even to fight.

His war records, some of which were partly destroyed in the bombing of the War Office in 1940, give two different dates of birth and other contradictory information.

"It seems he may have given the birth date of one of his brothers to enlist, even though he was only 16," said Janet Powell, one of two members of the Folkestone and District Family History Society who are researching details of everybody listed on war memorials in their area.

Fiancee's plea

The muddled story illustrates the kind of difficulty 77-year-old Mrs Powell and her friend, Pat Fincham, 81, are encountering in their efforts to bring together the stories of the more than 1,500 people with apparent links to the district.

The pair are scouring websites, hunting down official records and visiting war graves in mainland Europe to try to piece together at least basic details in time for next year's 100th anniversary of the Great War.

In Sgt Bloomfield's case, they have managed to establish that - like so many others commemorated locally - he served in the East Kent Regiment (the Buffs).

But while his parents married in Dover and later settled in Hythe, Sgt Bloomfield never had the chance to put down roots, dying from wounds sustained in battle before he could marry his fiancee, Fanny Harris.

Edward Goodsell The grave of Edward Goodsell, from Hythe, is in Sailly-Sur-La-Lys, France

And in a sad twist to the soldier's story, it emerged that despite her request to be given his war medals - including the Military Medal for bravery in the field - after his death, they went instead to his father.

'Fired up'

As well as gathering information on those whose names appear on memorials in the district, Mrs Powell, from Hastingleigh, and Mrs Fincham, from Arpinge, are travelling around Europe to photograph as many of the soldiers' graves as they can.

So far they have collected more than 250 since embarking on the project earlier this year, the bulk of them during a five-day trip to Ypres this summer when they visited more than 50 cemeteries.

"We got a bit fired up with it. We thought it was the natural thing to do for the commemorations," said Mrs Powell.

But she admits they may need to slow down and rely a little more on friends and relatives.

An estimated 10 million troops passed through Folkestone during WWI as they embarked on ships to cross the English Channel, and a memorial arch is planned for the top of the hill they had to descend to reach their boats.

Memorial arch A memorial arch is planned in Folkestone

The precise number is still unclear, as the researchers have discovered discrepancies and duplications among the myriad records they have been ploughing through.

For many, their connection with the area was fleeting, perhaps billeted there briefly before heading for France and Belgium.

But if their names are on local memorials, the society will be trying to do them justice.

"We often wonder what the criteria was for including any man on a memorial. So many appeared to have no real roots there," said Mrs Powell.

"I think sometimes they had a girlfriend left behind. Other times it seems the parents moved to the area at some time.

"As many of the memorials were by public subscription it seems as though you subscribed and asked for a certain person to be included."

Mrs Powell and Mrs Fincham have secured some funding for their challenging goal, but fear they will inevitably have to subsidise the project.

And they have called upon friends and relatives to help with photos of graves as far afield as Israel and South Africa.

Pte Fagg's name on war memorial Private Frederick Fagg is listed on two war memorials in Lympne

"It's amazing the favours you can call in," said Mrs Powell.

The pair have found snippets from websites, or official records, to help build a picture of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Individuals like Sgt Bloomfield, who was buried at Daours communal cemetery and whose details are entered on the war memorial in Hythe.

And Private Frederick Fagg, from Temple Ewell, near Dover, who was missing, presumed killed in action less than a month after being sent to France.

Or Lance Corporal Percy Piddock, from Lympne, who was killed in action only a month before the war ended.

The society is also appealing to families to contribute pictures and their own stories of fallen relatives.

"I think a lot of people can't get to see the graves and they find it poignant to think somebody has visited them and they can see the photograph," said Mrs Powell.

The completed files will be handed to parish officials for use in churches, village halls and schools, as well as published online.

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